Chatter on the Side
The remade New York Times Cookbook is pitched to today's food culture: big, practical, and talkative.
The Essential New York Times Cookbook:
Classic Recipes for a New Century
by Amanda Hesser
W. W. Norton & Company
$40.00 List Price
It all began with Billi Bi. The creamy, mussel-studded concoction "may well be the most elegant and delicious soup ever created," according to 1950s food guru Craig Claiborne, and one taste of it in a friend's kitchen is what sent me to a bookstore some fifteen years ago in search of a copy of The New York Times Cookbook. By then, Claiborne's venerable tome was more than thirty years old—when I was growing up, its simple navy-blue cover with the gilded spine, long stripped of the dust jacket, was a regular sight in my mother's kitchen. Never mind that unlike the works of Julia Child, that other towering figure of midcentury cookery whose books were known more readily by their author's name than by their cumbersome titles, The New York Times Cookbook (1961) was a compilation of other people's recipes, culled from the Times between 1950 and 1960, rather than the author's (the editor's, really) own. Heavily tilted toward French cuisine, as all cutting-edge American dining was in those years, it was referred to in my family's home, and later in the homes of friends, as it is now and will be forevermore in mine, simply as "Craig Claiborne."
My circle of intimates and I are not alone in our easy familiarity. As Amanda Hesser writes in The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century (Norton, $40)—which I can't help but refer to, as I'm sure many others will, as The "New" New York Times Cookbook—readers "developed an intimate relationship" with Claiborne from the moment he started working for the Times's food pages in 1957. "He was part reporter, part